Weighing the pros and cons of taking a new job rarely comes down to just compensation for most job seekers. This is particularly true for those who have budget and leadership responsibilities.
These jobs are in many cases the mission-critical ones that assist the company in reaching key milestones. If conversations with these candidates are limited to salary and benefits, they don’t go far enough. Once a candidate shows they can perform the job duties and they meet all or most of the key selection factors for the role, it is time for the company to understand what that person needs to feel comfortable leaving their current job and what is keeping them where they are.
Below, we’ve highlighted the seven most frequent conversations outside of salary and responsibilities that we have with job candidates and finalists. These conversations cover topics candidates and finalists tell us they are unsure of how or when to approach management. These are the sensitive areas where candidates most often request our assistance and guidance.
1. The Equity Left Behind
The value of unvested shares will weigh heavily on the minds of candidates coming from companies with strong stock performances, especially if shares vest in the near term. Candidates will want to discuss the equity they will leave behind as part of offer negotiations. They usually ask us if the company is willing to consider this lost equity and how and when to engage management on the subject. Depending on the amount of equity at risk, this conversation may happen early in the search process. While most competitive companies will offer some allocation for the equity left behind, the sticky point is usually how much and in what form.
2. Contract Protection
Candidates want to discuss contract protection in case of an event outside of their control that fundamentally changes the role, the location, their reporting relationships, or the company. These conversations are common with respect to companies that have an ongoing need for capitalization, have yet to launch a product, have unproven leadership, are late comers to their market, or fall into a high-risk category for other reasons.
3. Inner Circle Access
In the C-suite, there is the circle and then there is the inner circle. Not everyone with a C-level title is a member of the inner circle – typically known as the executive leadership team or ELT. Since this group is handpicked by the CEO, the ELT may be a mix of C-suite, department heads, and even a non-executive Board member or two. Candidates want to know where they fit in the company beyond the organizational chart. How much of a voice will they have with respect to formulating corporate strategy? Are they a member of the inner circle of strategy makers? If they are replacing someone in the role, was that person part of this group and if not, why?
4. The Shared Risk of Uprooting
When the job location is in an area with an extremely expensive cost of living, candidates may ask for, and may indeed need, assistance to purchase a home. Sometimes the chosen finalist can’t get full family support to leave a big, financially secure company or a tenured job to go to a small company with higher risk. They may ask not to relocate for a year or two if the company is high risk or the risk of finding a similar job in that new area is small, should the company downsize its workforce or fail. Relocation delays may also be tied to finalists who have high school kids in sports and special programs.
5. Bait and Switch
There are times when the chosen finalist is offered an executive director or senior director level title when they were fully expecting a vice president title, or they were offered a VP title when they expected more. These are delicate conversations to navigate because job title downgrades come when the company has chosen the finalist, but the finalist hasn’t yet chosen the company. The relationship is on shaky ground especially if the finalist sincerely believes they are due the higher title and fears accepting a lower one hurts their career progression. Conversations will typically include the probability to change the title or the timeframe to be promoted. There may be an ask for a guarantee on the higher title within a specific timeframe.
6. The Real Growth Strategy
Particularly in the small-cap specialty pharmaceutical market, a candidate may consider the product portfolio to be too small to motivate them to make a change. Therefore, they may ask if any deals are in place to grow via acquisition or some other way. Companies should not underestimate a candidate’s knowledge of capitalization, burn rates and runways for early-stage companies, even if the job has nothing to do with finance or corporate strategy. These candidates are looking to have conversations similar to those the CEO and CFO are having with the investment community. Just like a potential investor, they are trying to assess risk by understanding management’s vision, the competitive landscape, and the overall growth strategy.
7. Underwhelming Offer
There are times when a candidate's feedback is that they were expecting a much better offer, including each component of the offer. Sometimes hiring companies are completely below the current and expected compensation range for heavily recruited positions. Top candidates generally have as much or even more knowledge about the compensation range for the roles they pursue or are recruited for.
In-house talent acquisition teams may not be best suited for engaging in these conversations. Company recruiters are trained to promote their firm’s culture and its employee benefits, which is a one-size fits most package. If they are granted negotiating powers, it is typically for salary and lies within a very narrow range.
Even though retained recruiters are being paid by the hiring company, they are tasked with bringing in the best candidates for the job. Executive recruiters know the market and the compensation necessary to attract top talent as well as anyone. If they identify a prospect as someone worth promoting to their client, they’ll go to task for them. The best retained recruiters successfully navigate in that space between company and candidate, where the result is both parties are happy. The finalist won’t have new job remorse and the company has added a talented, potential tenured employee to its workforce.
Executive recruiters, in particular, get their information directly from leadership. Not only do they provide a safer haven for sensitive conversations, but if an executive recruiter can't answer a question, they are more apt to seek one without risk of it impacting the prospect’s candidacy. This gives the candidate a sense of security that isn't there otherwise. In general, executive recruiters have more and varied experience with these issues and can give guidance on when and how to approach these topics with management.
Everyone has a role to play in filling open positions. Companies will falter if capable people aren’t hired to make milestones happen. Like any department within a company, savvy CEOs and CHROs know to use outside consultants to help on key, sensitive, or mission-critical tasks to ensure their own success. Executive recruiters should be seen as exactly what they are: an extension of the talent acquisition team and a strategic talent advisor to company leadership.